Scottish Sailing & Climbing

The Countess of Sleat (our floating caravan!) at Mallaig marina

I’m just back from a week on a CC meet in Scotland based on a sail boat. The aim being to sail to some Scottish islands and sample the rock climbing using the boat as our accommodation… However, the weather forecast was extremely poor – strong winds and heavy rain. Tricky sailing conditions to say the least. Especially with an inexperienced crew in a chartered sailboat that our captain – CC President Steve Scott – was unfamiliar with. Consequently we spent the first few days holed up in Mallaig marina.

Mallaig

When we arrived at the Mallaig harbour on Saturday at the start of the meet the weather was beautiful, sunny, warm and – well – summery! It was hard to believe the forecast on such a wonderful day. But believe it we did, so to make the most of Saturday’s summer weather we kicked off with a short sail outside Mallaig before returning to the marina for dinner.

The marina at Mallaig
The marina at Mallaig
The Countess of Sleat (our floating caravan!) at Mallaig marina
The Countess of Sleat (our floating 44 foot caravan!) at Mallaig marina

Our first dinner was fish pie. Steve had pre-prepared our meals to address the risk of having to cook in a cramped galley in potentially rough seas. This made for perhaps the best catered meet I’ve ever been on! :yum: We also had Thai curry, pork & leek casserole (which I had cooked to help Steve out with his preparations before the meet began), vegetable chilli, Moroccan lamb, and beef & ale pie. What an awesome menu! :yum: And that’s ignoring all the breakfasts, second-breakfasts, lunches, snacks, starters, deserts, gin & tonic, beer, hors d’oeuvres, wine, etc that Steve had lined up!

The couple of days after our sunny arrival were miserable! It rained and rained. We lurched from meal to meal, striving to stave off the onset of cabin-fever. We all explored Mallaig over and over. On one afternoon I happened across the arrival of the steam train, the Jacobite. It was arriving in Mallaig from Fort William on it’s daily journey serving hundreds of train-loving tourists.

On Tuesday afternoon the rain abated, but the sea had been whipped up in to a maelstrom by the gales. It would take a while to calm down. However, we all agreed it would be exciting to have another short sail outside Mallaig harbour walls to sample the excitement of the heavy seas, and to allow Steve to check out the sailing qualities of our boat.

I characterised the experience as “type 2.5 fun”. Just how far over can one of these yachts lean before it falls over?! 😮 Having learnt, after we were safely back in the harbour, that we were never in real danger of capsize and with a bit more experience it might become type-2-fun. And maybe with loads more experience I can see it might even become type-1-fun…

Types of Fun

  • Type-1-Fun: Just plain simple and uncomplicated fun. It differs from ‘fun’ because it implies that there was a possibility for type-2-fun or even type-3-fun to have occurred instead.
  • Type-2-Fun: An activity that is fun only after you have stopped doing it.
  • Type-3-Fun: Not fun at all, not even in retrospect. You are pleased to have survived!
The Jacobite steam train pulled in to Mallaig station
The Jacobite steam train pulled in to Mallaig station

On Wednesday morning the weather was fair and later that afternoon blue skies were guaranteed that would last through to the end of Thursday. We set sail early towards Skye…

David putting together his passage plan from Mallaig to Skye
David putting together his passage plan from Mallaig to Skye
Leaving Mallaig harbour
Leaving Mallaig harbour
Steve, Cathy, Sam, Coel, John, David, and Clare onboard the Countess of Sleat with Eigg behind
Steve, Cathy, Sam, Coel, John, David, and Clare onboard the Countess of Sleat with Eigg behind
Aboard our floating "caravan" the Countess of Sleat
Aboard our floating “caravan” the Countess of Sleat

Suidhe Biorach

Our first landing was at the lovely little sea-cliff, Suidhe Biorach. The sky was still leaden and the crag initially looked dark and cold. But by the time we had anchored and motored ashore in our little inflatable tender the clouds had parted and the wall-to-wall blue skies were a very welcome change. The only downside – if one can call it that – was that we were all roasting hot as we’d all over dressed thanks to the cold looking cliff following days of endless rain.

We paired up and set about climbing the classic lines on this 25 to 30 metre high metamorphic sandstone sea-cliff. Steve and I had a great day collecting 14 stars on our haul of five routes: Crack of Zawn HVS 5b; Angel of Sharkness E1 5a but we thought more like HVS 5a; Hairy Mary HVS 4b, but Steve thought more like VS 4b, although it was super exciting and I thought very hard to grade; Jamie Jampot VS 4c; and to finish, Veritas Splendour via Pure Splendour Start E2 5b.

Clare and Sam on Angel of Sharkness
Clare and Sam on Angel of Sharkness
Steve on Crack of Zawn
Steve on Crack of Zawn
The Countess of Sleat anchored off Skye waiting for us while we climbed at Suidhe Biorach
The Countess of Sleat anchored off Skye waiting for us while we climbed at Suidhe Biorach
Leaving Suidhe Biorach
Leaving Suidhe Biorach

Coruisk and the Dubh Ridge

We spent Wednesday night anchored in what is supposed to be one of, if not the, best anchorages in Europe near the outflow of Loch Coruisk.

Being based on Skye gave us a problem though… We had planned, before the rough weather altered our plans, to climb on Eigg or Canna and no-one had a guidebook of rock climbing on Skye with them. Luckily Coel had a plan up his sleeve… Why not try a mass ascent of Britain’s (and therefore surely the world’s) best moderate climb? And thus we all departed on Thursday morning to climb the Dubh Ridge, a 1000m world-class scramble! 😛

David and Clare leaving our anchorage off Lock Coruisk on Skye
David and Clare leaving our anchorage off Lock Coruisk on Skye
The Dubh Ridge, perhaps the best Mod scramble in the world!
The Dubh Ridge, perhaps the best Mod scramble in the world!
Abseiling off the large gendarme on the Dubh Ridge
Abseiling off the large gendarme on the Dubh Ridge

We continued from the top of Sgùrr Dubh Mor to create a long horseshoe going over the tops of Sgùrr nan Eag and Gars-bheinn. Gars-bheinn is the normal start of a complete traverse of Skye’s Cuilin Ridge. Days out on Skye are massive! It was of course a very fine way to add two Munros to my pitifully slowly growing tally; Sgùrr Dubh Mor and Sgùrr nan Eag.

A great week – Scotland is a special place, even when the weather isn’t perfect!

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